If you’ve taken a look at our recent print issue (theme: “Confessions”), you may have found yourself somewhat confused about what exactly confession is, or what it means to Christians, or what it means to you. “Confessing” could apply to anything from proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord (which he is), to asserting that propositions like the Apostles’ Creed are true (which they are), to admitting your failures and flaws to a member of the Body of Christ (which you should). Despite this perplexing panoply of meanings, I think that all confessions share two key elements:
- The truth
I think that these two elements are important because I am (we are) spiritually insane. Deeply so.
For one thing, I am (we are) preposterously, offensively, indefensibly forgetful about who God is and what He has done for me, and about how that changes me, the world, and everything. I forget that Jesus Christ is Lord and that I am not. I forget that He is my father and that I am his child (Jn 1:12). I forget that I did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but that I have received the Spirit of adoption as a son, by whom I cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:15). I forget that God gave me a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim 1:7). I even sometimes forget that God exists, or that He only wants what’s best for me, or that my actions have consequences.
For another thing, I can rationalize anything. My obsession with my personal ambitions and my enslaving terror of failing them fly under the flag of diligence and “serving God with my mind.” Gluttony flies under the banner of “I deserve or need this because I worked out.” Cowardice masquerades as not wanting to hurt other people’s feelings, or as just wanting to be kind and thoughtful to them. Dishonesty promises that it will just curl up in a little ball in the corner and never hurt anybody. Narcissism and laziness prefer the label “self-care.” When selfishly ignoring the pains and needs of others, I insist that I am really busy and I just don’t have time for this. And don’t even get me started on the self-indulgent crap I can call “relaxing.”
So you see, between my built-in Truth-forgetter and my endlessly creative self-deception mechanism, I can justify anything. (And at one time or another human beings have justified anything!) If you think that this two-fold condition of spiritual amnesia and self-deception might also apply to you, I hope you see the need for speaking the truth out loud. If you think it does not apply to you, I beg you to consider speaking the truth out loud anyway, even if you see no reason and no benefit. I would suggest that, logically, those who are the most enslaved are those who don’t even know that they’re slaves. Hopefully you can at least agree that, hypothetically, if this condition did apply to you, then:
a.) you would, by definition, be the last person to know it (you would deny it!); and
b.) (as a result) you would be super screwed.
My experience is that taking the actions suggested by others as means of encountering God has always paid off; there are good ideas out there that I neither came up with nor understand intuitively. At any rate, I’ve been learning — slowly, slowly! — from painful experience that, left to my own devices, I am super screwed, that I am always as sick as my secrets. I can’t have both secrets and fullness of life. (All the best to you if you can!) I’ve really tried my darned-est. I don’t even get the privilege of ignorance, for it never turns out blissful.
This two-fold condition of Truth-forgetting and rationalization (a form of spiritual sickness, I daresay) is why I think that talking only to God, even in earnest prayer, or merely thinking about something, e.g. my own sin, *doesn’t count* as confession. The problem is in my mind, in my thinking. And I can’t fix my broken brain with my broken brain! Nor can I reliably hear from God through the all the self-centered, confused static of my own brainwaves, much less interpret anything that He might be saying to me. In Eph. 4:17-25 Paul not only describes the problem of futility of mind, but also provides an antidote: “Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth,” he says. To whom shall I speak the truth? “Each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” In other words, my only hope is to confess to another believer, who can hear what is actually true, and who can tell me the truth. For example, the truth that my sins are forgiven in Christ. (I have never once been able to hear this truth from myself; I never believe me!) Confession is not, cannot be, an isolated experience.
Fortunately, Jesus the Great Psychologist has given us brothers and sisters: in order that we may confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, that we may be healed (Jas. 5:16). The best part is that, in confessing to my brother, I am actually building him up (Eph 4:25)! Anybody who’s been on the receiving end of a confession will attest to this.
I leave you with the words of our Lord from John 8:31-36, in which are contained my prayer for you, for me, and for this campus:
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”